4 out of 5
Label: Moon Ska
Produced by: Bill Laswell
I know: their name is a ‘ska’ pun and there’s a picture inside of a dude humping an inflatable animal; you’re already rolling your eyes, you’re slightly embarrassed to be holding this CD – I was reaching for that Mekons disc, I swear! – but get over it. Get over your general ska aspersions while you’re at it, and recognize how stupidly catchy and packed with skillful displays this album is, even if it’s kitschy as (womp) hell.
Yes, you’ve guessed correctly: with all the Satanic references in band name and album title and art, Mephiskapheles’ music offers odes to the dark one, or to fables of grimness or evil. And that’s the kitsch: for every amusing blend of skank and snark – the opening theme song; the sing-along acoustic Saba – there’s a song about rudeboys (Eskamoes) or The Bumble Bee Tuna Song, more than indicating that the whole thing’s a joke. Which admittedly tires after a bit and undercuts the songs’ inherent values; better to fully commit to the gag and go full evil, as the group would on their follow up masterpiece Maximum Perversion. Still, it’s near impossible to suppress the surge of energy expressed over the course of the album, as whatever the subject matter, the group delivers it with an impressive array of talents. Produced by jazz / experimental luminary Bill Laswell, the mix tends to favor the brass, but Mephiskapheles’ horn section is so tight this is by no means a bad thing, and the confidence of that delivery allows vocalist The Nubian Nightmare to really shine, giving his throaty, spastic singing style the solid base it needs to riff off of.
There are so many surface level flags with God Bless Satan that encourage one to brush it off as a remnant of the snotty punk and ska wave of the late 90s / early 00s, but the dedication the group ends up displaying in keeping a straight face during silly tracks like the Bumblee Tuna theme song cover, or the head-shaking mash-up of two-tone, funk, and punky aggression on tracks like Two Trains, or just the general talent on display, skewed through a devil worshipping joke, should convince any listener that, at the very least, these aren’t just dudes trying to cash in on a whim: they’re great at what they do and seem to be having a blast doing it. And if you have an open ear for this kind of stuff, its very likely you’ll end up having a blast as well, and roll your eyes at the people rolling their eyes as they peevishly put the CD down, unlistened.*
*acknowleding that no one knows what CDs are anymore.